Jul 312014
presentation nerves

Probably the most important presentation skill is knowing what to do when you are nervous.

Here are two things that will help you with your nerves when giving a presentation:

  1. Having a well-structured presentation
  2. Rehearsing and planning for the event itself.


Besides being a great help in communication, the structure of your presentation is the map that shows you where you are going while you are giving the presentation.

The best presentation structure.(Follow this link for more about presentation structure.)

  • If you know what the second example of the third section is, then you won’t feel lost.
  • If you know what your conclusion is, you won’t mumble your way to a weak ending.
  • If you know which examples are less important, you will know what to leave out if you run out of time.

If you have a solid structure, you won’t need to read from the slides. You will know what your points are, because they will be structural elements. Your examples won’t be bullets anymore, they will be sound bites that stay in your audience’s memory.

Finally, a good structure gives you control over timing. You will know exactly how long each section is and how to get from one section to the next.

Of course this makes practicing your presentation much easier, as well.

Practicing? Did he say practicing?

Did you have a piano teacher who told you to practice 20 minutes a day, but never told you how?

In “Talk Like TED,” Carmine Gallo writes about TED speakers who practice 200 hours before their TED talks. But how did they do it?

I worked as a performing musician for 27 years and I had colleagues who never developed a system for efficient rehearsing, let alone practicing performing.

So, here you go: my system for presentation practice.

How to practice a presentation

Some people like to practice their presentation by always starting at the beginning, thereby making their introduction very well rehearsed and their conclusion completely forgettable.

I like another method:

  1. Practice the call to action and the conclusion. Say them out loud and with whatever visual elements you will be using.
  2. Practice the introduction up to and including the main point of the presentation. Again, out loud with your ums and restarts and lost concentration. Then do it again a couple of times.
  3. Practice the complete introduction, the 3 main aspects as condensed sound bites, and then the entire conclusion. Now you are beginning to get the timing of the slides right. You’re finding that the joke isn’t really that funny and that your third example doesn’t make as much sense as you would like it to. Fix them.
  4. Practice section 3 entire, section 2, and then section 1.
  5. Do the whole thing. Don’t stop. Not at all. Figure out where you get tired, where it stumbles, and where it gets weak. Eliminate what’s unnecessary. Try it again.
  6. Imagine, then practice every transition:
    • How you walk in
    • How you will start
    • How to get from the intro to section 1
    • Section 1 to 2, section 2 to 3
    • How to get from section 3 to the conclusion
    • How to get from the conclusion to the Q&A
    • How to thank everyone and get away.


At this point treat yourself to 3 minutes of quiet visualization. Ask yourself

  • What will the space be like?
  • Who will be there?
  • What do I want to achieve? What is the best outcome?
  • What can possibly go wrong? And how can I solve it? What is my plan B?

Too much work?

This all sounds like a lot of work.

Is it worth it?

If you stop to think what you can gain from a great presentation, it’s a no-brainer.

Then again, think of what you could lose:

  • Your presentation is often the first time your audience meets your idea or product. You should do everything you can to keep it from being the last.
  • Your presentation is the moment when your company’s, your team’s and your own quality and reputation are on the line. Don’t you want that to turn out well?
  • It can also be the last thing the decision makers see before buying, investing or hiring. What impression do you want to leave them with?


  • You can’t connect with your audience if you deliver your message poorly. Then all your preparation would be pointless.

In these terms, it seems like 2 or 3 hours of focused practicing can, at the very least, have a significant effect on your confidence and your success rate.

Pre-flight Check

Most performers have an equipment checklist. This keeps them from running around like headless chickens before their performance.

Your list should include:

  • Bottle of water
  • Laptop
  • Power cable
  • Beamer connectors / sound connectors
  • Backup of the presentation on a flash drive
  • Whiteboard pens
  • Any objects that you are going to use (samples, prototypes, handouts)
  • Check that your shoes are tied, your fly is up, your shirt is tucked in and there is nothing coming out of your nose.

Here we go

Before you begin, take a breath. Let it out. Then start. That’s what Serena Williams does before she serves the tennis ball.

Stand on your feet, put your shoulders back and look out at your listeners. After all, you are there to sell your ideas and products. They are there to listen to you. There is no reason to be in a rush.


If you, like me, are the type of person who worries about remembering everything, here are two solutions.

  1. Use Presenter View on your laptop. This view allows you to see something different on your laptop than what the audience sees on the big screen behind you. You will be able to read your notes from the laptop screen, along with the current and next slides. This gives me, at least, a very comfortable feeling. You can see them using this method often on TED talks.
  2. By all means, write some things down on notecards. I usually write my sound bites, a drawing of my structure with some key words, or a few of the things that I want to say in an exact manner. If you can keep yourself from hiding behind them, people probably won’t even notice them.


Finally, nerves are OK: they give us adrenaline and make us alert. They remind us that what we’re doing is important. They’re only a problem when you haven’t planned for them.


Of course, structuring and practicing your presentation is way more fun if you have help. If you want some further advice, please send me an email: jonathan@tipresentations.nl

Jonathan Talbott founded TIP (Talbott International Presentations) in 2012 with the ambition to make the world more interesting, one presentation at a time. He is internationally recognized for helping his clients create and deliver presentations that go straight to the point and achieve results. He has helped thousands of people and companies improve their pitches (small presentations), which has led to a direct increase in their bottom line. For longer presentations, his clients have included both small and multinational companies, non-profits, start-ups and political parties. TIP is based in The Hague in the Netherlands.

Copyright © 2014, Jonathan Talbott


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